Saturday, September 19, 2015

From Europe to Texas, Mark Pryor Moves for HOLLOW MAN

I'm a huge fan of Mark Pryor's Hugo Marston series, set in Europe (mostly circling around Paris) where Marston, a retired FBI profiler, provides security for the U.S. Embassy. (Reviews here!)  The Reluctant Matador was the 2015 title in this series, so it's intriguing to have an extra Mark Pryor book in the same year, and this one's billed as a standalone: HOLLOW MAN.

You don't need to know the T. S. Eliot poem that provides the title -- it's clear right away that Domenic, the narrator, is a psychopath, making his way as a Texas prosecutor with a performed set of emotions that he doesn't really feel. Or at least, his versions of them are very different. He's interested, intrigued, annoyed, even angry, but kindness, for him, is a matter of calculating what's in his best interest. A job transfer to a less compelling and less profitable division distresses him. But in the process, the possibility of creating a "perfect crime" arises, and of course, he can't walk away from the challenge.
But I did resist. I had to. It's one thing being unable to get off the slide once you begin; it's quite another to step onto that slippery slope with your eyes wide open. I'd trained myself that being a functional human being meant, for me, recognizing dangerous situations and steering around them. Not resisting the temptations, but avoiding them in the first place. I was the serial adulterer hiring an ugly secretary, or the booze-hound driving the long way home to avoid his local liquor store.

"Prosecutors don't steal cars," I said. "Not this one, anyway."

"It's not stealing," she said, "if you give it back. It's not even borrowing. It's teaching him a lesson."
I've got very mixed reactions to this one. Pryor's writing is compelling and convincing, and the plot he provides is neatly twisted and well paced. But I found I was uneasy "identifying" with this narrator. Maybe I should be used to it -- the Wyatt books from Garry Disher are equally disturbing in terms of being inside a psychopath's mind. But Disher's Wyatt has weak spots in his personal defenses, and takes some risks for others at odd but significant moments, and I find myself on his side. For Domenic, a cautious emotional distance fits much better. I wanted to like him, but all in all, I didn't -- and I wouldn't necessarily prioritize reading another book from his point of view. (Good thing for me it's a standalone, then.)

What did intrigue me mightily was seeing author Mark Pryor make the shift to the Texas setting, where he is himself a transplanted Englishman and an assistant district attorney. I appreciated his know-how on both the legal career and the effect of changing countries. (He has a family and does not appear to be a psychopath himself, I'm glad to note.)

After the already-mentioned Australian Wyatt series and of course the Dexter books, plus Dave Zeltersman's series, I found Pryor's psychopath approach less than satisfying, the the plot was more predictable than I like. But other readers have found the ending surprising. If you like really dark noir and the tension of crossing a legal career into crime, check out HOLLOW MAN. From Seventh Street Books, a publisher that keeps on impressing me with its reach and range.

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